Murderous Vision – Abscission MC Chthonic Streams 2019
Consistent longevity in the underground is no easy feat, yet 2019 is revealed as the 25th anniversary of Stephen Petrus’ solo project Murderous Vision. Having always been broadly defined by a murky death industrial style characteristic of the now classic 1990’s era, recent output has displayed a greater degree of experimentation. Yet of the four tracks which feature on Abscission, it harks back to the early era of the project.
Tape opener Breaking the Bonds of Light announces intent with horror synths, militant percussion and murky drones which border on choral chants, but things take a noted step up with the following track Echoed Voice. The first a section of darkly brooking cinematic ambience and spoken vocals, prior to the second half featuring chanted male vocals against rolling, echo processed percussion and rising tide of grim distortion. Autumn Black begs a partial comparison to the brooding, cinematically tinged and percussive death industrial of Megaptera. With an excellent display of restraint, the driving percussion only arrived in the later half of track to ratchet up the tensile mood. For the final of the four compositions, Open The Night Sky round out the tape as the heaviest and most direct track, featuring slow pummeling beat, grinding looped bass distortion and aggressive heavily processed vocal barrage.
At around 27 minutes of music, this is a short and to the point released, but also packs a major impact in that time, where each of the four track deliver a distinct and individual sound within a broader death industrial framework. Abscission is great tape and fitting celebration of a quarter century of activity. But with an extremely limited physical edition, this would also be a great candidate for a vinyl reissue.
Mists of Darkness – The Lightless Lands MC Trapdoor Tapes 2019
Well this is certainly a blast from the past. Originally self-released in 1995, Mists of Darkness were a one-man ‘dungeon synth’ project from Australia, and contextually speaking, The Lightless Lands was produced in an era well before ‘dungeon synth’ even existed as a descriptive genre tag. Yet at the time of its original release, material of this type was very much an offshoot of the underground black metal scene and the growing crossover into underground post-industrial music (via artists and labels such as Mortiis and Cold Meat Industry).
Noting that this tape can today be described as ‘dungeon synth’, some comments need to be made regarding the current micro-trend of this style. With the endless raft of new acts seemingly cropping up, of all the new material I have heard, the greater majority sounds over produced with a ‘jolly’ or ‘twee’ slant (i.e. in a ridiculous medieval way), where the end result sounds akin to poor man’s role-playing game/ computer game music. Equally the production of much of the current era ‘dungeon synth’ is often too clean and lacks a lofi charm that a murky production can bring. In short there seems to be a real lack of understanding of the obscure and atmospheric elements which should ideally underpin the sound. But enough of that rant. Obviously Mists of Darkness are one of the few projects of ‘dungeon synth’ that I can still appreciate.
The Lightless Lands features four tracks (or ‘acts’) with a run time around 33 minutes. The track titles themselves allude to creation and description of a world unique to Mists of Darkness (i.e.: Act 1 Journey To The Lightless Lands & Act 3 The First Vision Of The Lightless Lands), which places the concept in a dark fantasy type realm (also of note, the cover images gives a nod to Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated film version of The Lord of the Rings). From a listeners’ perspective, the first thing of note is the sound, which is crude and lofi to the point of making early Era 1 Mortiis recordings look decidedly high fidelity. Yet it is the crude sound which actually embellishes its dark and obscure atmosphere. Compositionally the tracks are generally composed with low bit-rate computer generated droning loops, which are further layered with singular toned melodies, programmed ritual percussive patterns and other sporadic computer-based sounds which emulate lightning, thunder, windstorms, waves lapping at shore and shrieks of unidentified beasts. The overall crude sound clearly shows the sonic limitations of the equipment this was composed and recorded on, but again the muffled sound of the recording on tape format functions to provide a grey hued atmosphere which adds rather than detracts. Thus, despite its clear limitations, there is still an ingrained level of darkly atmospheric charm.
If ‘crude’, ‘obscure’ and ‘lofi’ are descriptors for dungeon synth which spark interest, further investigation of The Lightless Lands is pretty much mandated. Although personally having owned the original tape since its original release way back in 1995, it is great to see Trapdoor Tapes have reissued this to give this underground obscurity greater prominence.
Schloss Tegal – Psychometry DLP La Esencia Records 2019
Thirteen long years have transpired since the last Schloss Tegal album, so you could have been forgiven for thinking a new album was an impossibility – yet here it is. Granted there was a two track 7” ep Procession Of The Dead (Undead) released in 2017, but that release did not include new music, rather featured a remix of an old track and another live recording from 2008.
Based on first impressions of Psychometry,the stunning sleeve design of the gatefold vinyl with spot varnished geometric patterns needs to be acknowledged. In my estimation this visual presentation does absolute justice the album’s conceptual themes, which themselves hark back to 1999 Black Static Transmission. Although the artwork of that earlier album let it down somewhat in term of feeling slightly amateurish in early computer-based design. Sonically speaking, Psychometry also feels to have clear linage to Black Static Transmission rather than the direct sound employed on 2006’s album The Myth Of Meat (which is explained by its source material having been drawn from sounds recorded in a working abattoir). But apart from focusing on sonic differences, Psychometry still embodies a particular sound established and easily recognized as that of Schloss Tegal. This means it is too sonically forceful to be described as dark ambient, but equally is not abrasive enough to become noise/industrial.
From the outset the album delivers grim maelstrom drones blend with dour muted melodies, while other erupting fissure of sounds seem to articulate the tearing at the hidden fabric of one sub-conscious (refer to Pyschpompus and Incorporeal Being as prime examples). The Invalid Earth is an early standout with its throbbing ritual pulse, swirling drones and disembodied radio chatter. Krononaut (Time Zero) articulates further churning emanations from the void, complete with prominent EVP voices, and based on their scratchy semi-unintelligible it gives off an unnerving and eerie effect (EVP recordings appear on a number of tracks throughout). Black Vessel then delivers a foreboding tumult of layered electronics and is one of the more direct and heavy tracks on display. Moving towards the end of the album Body Farm delivers a tensile, and shrilly cinematic composition, but which is far too short in run time. As for the concluding track We All Become Gods blends deep cinematic tinged textures with widescreen drones and (again) with an unnerving disembodied voice.
Over their discography Schloss Tegal have excelled at sonically articulating a psychic space which blends the real and perceivable with an ‘unknowable otherness’ of inter-dimensional states. Without question Psychometry is another excellent example of this approach. In a general sense this feel of being a collection of individual and separate tracks rather than the sprawling and interlinking movements on Black Static Transmission. But this is only a compositional observation and not in any way a criticism. Not to call Psychometry a ‘return to form’, as that would allude to some sort of prior drop in quality of output, rather Psychometry is a welcomed and long-awaited continuation of unique sound and approach that Schloss Tegal have always displayed. Recommended and absolutely worthy of investment in its stunning physical edition.
Blitzkrieg Baby – Homo Sapiens Parasitus LP Neuropa Records 2019
Strictly speaking Kim Sølve’s Blitzkrieg Baby project is quite incongruent to the typical coverage of Noise Receptor Journal. Yet there is something quite special in the cynical black humor and heavily sarcastic lyrics wrapped up in a diverse song-based approach, spanning elements of cinematic/orchestral dark ambient, martial industrial, and more streamlined song-based industrial. In fact, the Looney Tunes inspired cover artwork – which strongly speaks to my own childhood – is an excellent visual presentation of this thematic and stylistic approach (the artwork is by Trine + Kim Design Studios, which is the graphic design firm Kim runs with his partner and showcases their talents as graphic designers). Likewise, the self-described tag of ‘Norwegian Dystopian Electronic Music’ further emphasizes the approach.
Album opener Hip Hip Hooray displays the cynical and darkly playful nature of the album, with a track of mid-paced bass guitar-driven swagger, while the spoken vocals break out into a chorus chant of the track’s title. After a short instrumental interlude with an industrial/orchestral dark ambient track (Apocalypse To Go), comes Boys Will be Boys, which is a perfect example fusing martial beats, orchestral synths, and dark pop-focused chorus line hooks, with the end result being swaggering rather than martially stilted. The pairing of tracks like The March of Human Progress I & II bring a more serious tone, which is mostly due to the instrumental format, thereby the cynical element brought about by the vocals is absent. On the musical front it strongly reminds me of the martial ambient industrial sound of Toroidh, given the slow dark ambient throb, sub-orchestral elements, and marching music samples. Perhaps for my own listening preferences Praise The Pig comes off as the only misstep due to the prominent chugging guitar riff (but that says more about my personal aversion to guitar-based industrial). Yet despite this criticism, the tolling church bells and chanted male vocals which appear late in the track effectively win me over. Moving towards the album’s end, the dour yet playful nature of the album is again in full flight on Pre-Cum Of The Apocalypse, with a slow brooding dark ambient/martial industrial track, where the lone piano line rings out with reverb, while the vocals are sung choir style which belies their cynical slant. The album closer, Homo Sapiens Parasitus & the Countdown to the Apocalypse is an industrial pop stormer of a composition, driving ever forwards with stoic rolling beats and vocals ranging from whispered to full rousing male choirs.
Despite its vein of cynical black humor on the thematic and lyrical front, the music itself is treated with utmost seriousness, and done exceedingly well, avoiding any notion of being ‘cheesy’ in the end result. This is no mean feat, given the use of any level of ‘humor’ in post-industrial music usually predicts my total uninterest. Wildly divergent – yet recommended at the same time.
raison d’être – Anima Caelum 2xCD Old Europa Cafe 2019
By way of background context, Anima Caelum was first issued in a limited edition of 99 copies on double cassette in 2018 (also on Old Europa Café). Now it has been reissued with slightly revised content on double CD in a less limited edition.
With the tagline on the cover stating ‘alive 2014-2017’ it is a not too subtle clue enough that it is a collection of live tracks and not new recordings. So for me, the pinnacle aspect is the full recording of the special set which was performed at the Cold Meat Industry 30th anniversary show in Stockholm November, 2017, which I was lucky enough to attend and witness in person. My review of that festival noted the following with regard to the raison d’être set featured on this set:
‘Having seen raison d’être three times before, I expected it to be decent show, but was completely blown away by the impact of this set, based on the sheer intensity of volume. Also with sole member Peter Andersson playing a special set consisting of one track from all of his CMI albums, it was a veritable hit parade of the tracks from each album with the greatest emotional impacts. Again, with the focus being on the projected visual backdrop, it functioned to further amplify the mood of the sacral and the damned, based around various moving images of religious decay and sorrowful mourning. For me personally raison d’être’s set was the most moving of the entire festival, where the pairing of tracks Inner Depths Of Sadness (from the Within The Depths Of Silence And Phormations album), and Reflecting In Shadows (from the In Sadness, Silence And Solitude album) hit home hard to show just how important the music of raison d’être has been to me over the years (as an example of this, I was so taken by In Sadness, Silence And Solitude when first hearing it in 1997 that it spurred me on to immediately write my first music review, which in turn led to me creating Spectrum Magazine shortly after). In being far beyond a ‘mere’ dark ambient set, the volume absolutely elevated the impact and presence of the set to the next level and was one of my personal standouts of the entire festival’.
The above impression pretty much sums up my thoughts on the entirety of the content featured across the two CD’s. Perhaps this is a release more the avid and obsessive fan than the casual listener, but even so, it is an excellent collection of the full and complete Stockholm set coupled with live tracks from various performances. Likewise the live version deviate enough from the original to provide both detailed and nuanced interest. Another very enjoyable album from this unfaltering dark ambient behemoth, and exquisitely presented in a deluxe 6 panel digipack.
Mz.412 – Svartmyrkr LP Cold Spring 2019
Over their now 31 year career Mz.412 have never been the most prolific group, but equally have made their core releases iron clad statement of intent. Likewise, rather that sticking to a single sonic approach over the decades, they have managed to cover quite some stylistic territory under the broader ‘black industrial’ banner. That has variously included: rudimentary ‘factory floor’ framed industrial (Macht Duch Stimmme and Malfeitor); satanic inspired black industrial (In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanas Luciferi Excelsi); black metal infused black industrial (Burning The Temple Of God); militant industrial/ power electronics influenced black industrial (Nordic Battle Signs); neo-classical tinged black ambient (Dominie Rex Infernum); and bombastic neo-classical framed black industrial (Infernal Affairs).
When excluding their live albums, Svartmyrkr is the eighth formal album from the group and a long twelve years on from Infernal Affairs. With myself holding a personal mindset
that there may have not been another Mz.412 album, I was OK with that prospect, given the strength and importance of the back catalogue. But in 2019 we have been graced with a new album Svartmyrkr, which thankfully both meets and exceeds hype and expectation. Ten tracks constitute the 45-minute album, where the pounding drums, male choirs of the short Antra Helstraffet functions as the album’s short intro. This is followed by the brooding to bombastic neo-classical track Öppna Helgrind driven forwards by mid-paced militant percussion and strong gruff vocals of Nordvargr. With its
distorted industrial furnace blasts Codex Mendacium mines the earlier black industrial sound of years past, while Ulvens Broder sees the group at their most bombastic with a rousing militantly tinged neo-classical track. Ulvens Bleka Syster is of note by featuring crawling and seething orchestral strings of a clear Penderecki strain. The albums also contains some surprises, such as the moody black ambient track Burn Your Temples, True Change with its central acoustic guitar courtesy of Kristoffer Oustad. Likewise, the late album pairing of She Who Offers Sorrow and We Are Infernal, qualify as effective
album ‘hits’, with both being militant and bombastic neoclassical driven black industrial tracks of the highest order.
With Svartmyrkr released in early 2019 and appreciated over a number of months, it is clear that it is an effective culmination of everything which has come before. Not being a
mere pastiche of earlier elements, rather it has drawn together core sonics elements into a complete and unified whole, where Svartmyrkr both compliments and builds upon the significant legacy of Mz.412. Wholeheartedly recommended.
Monocube – Substratum CD Malignant Records/Cyclic Law 2019
Like a monumental ancient breath issuing forth from the bowels of the earth, Monocube have returned with their fourth album of archaic soundscape ambience, issued again on Malignant Records but this time having been co-released by Cyclic Law. As an initial observation, on a whole Substratum has a more consistent sound palette overall than last album The Ritual (2016), which was more varied between tracks and on occasion used prominent musical motifs and ritual percussion. And while musical and melodic motifs are still employed here, it is in a much more subtle way, often semi-obscured within the elongated widescreen droning ambience.
Depth, breadth, and reverb play a huge part in setting the tone and atmosphere of the album, where early in the album foggy and enveloping twilight drones and deep throat chants characterize the lengthy Prima Materia. This piece seamlessly blends into Luft which is differentiated by its subtle and minimal plucked instrument (guitar?) and use of what may be field recordings of blustering storm winds, which perfectly offsets the elongated melodious drones. The semblance of natural field recording elements also weaves through the middle and later sections, providing the consistency in mood across the album. As with the last album, a number of tracks are based on collaborations, here featuring Visions on one composition, and Antti Litmanen of Arktau Eos on another, but without reading the liner notes to determine which tracks these are, their contributions are not immediately evident from sound alone – and again refers back to my comments on the consistent sound palette.
With the tone and atmosphere of Substratum fitting like a glove with similar archaic ambient droning material issued on both Cyclic Law and Malignant, this is another fine album to submerge one’s inner psyche with and effectively lose yourself over its hour-plus timespan.